Authors: D.K. Holmberg
“Probably not,” I agreed.
“She did not send you this time.”
I shook my head. “Did she send me the last time?”
The woman shrugged, a slight movement of her shoulders. “You came, didn’t you?”
“I came,” I agreed. “Why did she send me?”
“If you don’t know, then it is not my place to tell you.”
“That’s not the answer I need,” I said, taking a step toward her.
A knife appeared faster than I would have thought possible. She held it out, her hand steady.
I backed up and raised my hands.
“That’s all the answer you will get.”
“Why are you here?” I asked. I nudged the fallen man with my boot. “Is it him?”
She fixed me with an unblinking stare.
“Who is he?” I studied the man’s face and didn’t recognize him. “I’ll find out even if you don’t tell me.”
“Are you so confident of your skill?”
“Then you don’t need me to tell you.”
I tipped my head and pulled a terad-tipped dart from my pouch. “And if you work with her, you don’t need him alive.”
I made as if to flick it and she put herself in front of me.
“Don’t,” she said, pushing the knife toward me.
The corners of her eyes twitched and the pulse in her neck bounded a little more forcefully than I would have expected.
I lowered the dart and shook my head. “Does Carth know?” I asked.
“Does she know what?”
I motioned toward the fallen man and she slipped to the side, making a point of keeping her body in between me and the man. If I really wanted to harm him, she was making it clear that I would have to go through her. “That you care for him.”
“I don’t—” she started.
I dropped and started to flip a dart toward him and she threw herself in front of me completely. The knife dropped to the ground and her hands extended over her head, pleading with me now. The confidence was gone, though I didn’t doubt it would return.
For a moment, I wondered if she played me.
Knowing what I did of Carth and the way she used her women, I wouldn’t be surprised. She would place a woman here and use her to extort… what? Information? Or was this woman here for a different purpose? Was there something else that she was meant to steal? Regardless, it wouldn’t surprise me for Carth to have someone here so skilled at deception that she could convince another that she cared—truly cared.
But there were certain signs that would be much harder to fake. The way her eyes occasionally flicked to the man, as if reassuring herself that he still breathed. Or the way that she kept her foot in contact with him. Even the rapid tapping of her pulse in her neck, though that could be as much about me as it was about any feelings she had.
Given the games I played, and the games that were played with me, I gambled. I thought the odds were in my favor this time.
“Tell me,” I said.
The woman shook her head. “Do what you must with me, but please,” she said, that word whispered, as if difficult to say, “leave him out of this.”
“Who is he to you?”
I wanted to know, mostly because I doubted that Carth knew, but partly because I was curious. After what I’d been through, and how much I’d nearly lost, it would do me well to know that some good came from what happened here.
“An assignment,” she whispered. “At first.”
She pulled her hands back, blinking as if realizing what she did, and leaned down to retrieve her knife. She slipped it back into a hidden pocket, again moving faster than I would have expected. If all of Carth’s women were like this, they were more dangerous than I had experienced.
That still troubled me. She was my friend—or had been, before she nearly died, killed for… something. Either for Carth or because of me, though neither Talia nor Carth blamed me for what happened. Talia had always been my friend. The confident owner of the Brite Pot, a tavern and inn where I could drink safely. Now that was gone.
Talia was gone.
“I don’t know,” the woman whispered.
I made a show of putting the darts back into my pouch. “Tell me the assignment.”
“She will know what he is to you if you don’t tell me,” I said.
The woman glanced down at the man, her face twisting through a series of emotions, the most she’d shown since I had appeared, and then she looked back over at me. “I was to retrieve a ledger from Benahg’s home.”
“What was in the ledger?”
“I didn’t see the contents,” she said. “When you were here, it meant my responsibility was over. You… you were a distraction so I could get the ledger out.” She looked over at the man and sighed. “You will tell Carth now?”
“Tell her what? That you fell for your assignment?” I asked. “You wouldn’t be the first. But no. I won’t tell Carth now.”
Besides, I needed to know what sort of ledger Ben would have kept that Carth would have found important enough to place her woman here, but I couldn’t come up with anything. But for me to get out from under the thumb of Orly and Carth, I had to learn what they knew. And this woman either didn’t know anything or chose not to share. Either way, I wouldn’t push her any more than I had.
Watching how she knelt next to the fallen man, I wondered if it mattered.
When I reached the part of Eban more familiar to me, I began to slow. It wasn’t very late, and the streets were surprisingly full of people. Surprising until I remembered that we neared the Eban Landing Festival. I’d lived outside of Elaeavn for many years and I still hadn’t become accustomed to all the festivals and celebrations that places outside my homeland enjoyed. Some, like Harvestfest or Summer’s Night, were sensible. Others, like the Landing Festival, one that I still hadn’t managed to get a reasonable explanation for, made less sense.
Because of the festival, the streets were busy, and most of the people were intoxicated. Music came from the open doors of taverns, and shouts and song filled the night. A woman who reminded me of Carth appeared in the distance, and I trailed after her. Doubtful that it was her, but I let myself wander and follow.
My other years in Eban at Landing Festival, I’d had jobs. With such noise and chaos, someone like myself could use the distractions and easily slip in and complete the assassinations I needed. Since working with Orly—and now Carth—my external jobs had declined.
Not that I minded, not much at least. Mostly, I took the jobs for the coin, but Carth had seen to it that I didn’t need the money as I once had. And my supplies were well stocked, unlike other times when I was without work.
It left me in an uncomfortable place.
Attempting to find why Carth had used me to reach Benahg had yielded nothing other than the fact that her woman was more deeply buried than I suspected Carth knew. The information might be valuable, but I couldn’t think of any way that I would use it without putting the woman in danger, something I had no interest in doing.
done nothing to me, only used the distraction that I’d provided to get the ledger out of the compound.
And if I were honest, I couldn’t deny that what Carth did had a certain value, especially if she opposed men like Orly, even if others were hurt in the process. How could I judge that when I had been the reason that so many had been hurt before?
No, my frustration stemmed from my inability to find anything useful.
I hesitated on a street corner, not surprised to note the Brite Pot in the distance.
How had I ended up coming this way?
I had followed a woman who resembled Carth, but she wouldn’t have been out in the city, and certainly not on a night like tonight. I had been foolish and careless. After what happened, I needed to be more careful, especially in this part of the city. I’d been attacked, and Talia had nearly died, here before. These were places that the city guard didn’t patrol, places that the thief-masters controlled, where the occasional death—especially of one from Elaeavn—went unnoticed—or at least, not minded.
Maybe something else had drawn me here. Once, I would have claimed it was the sense of friendship, and maybe if I were completely honest with myself, the distant hope of something more. Now that was gone, extinguished by the reality of life within Eban.
As I turned, deciding to make my way to the river and take another chance to watch Carth’s ship before she left the city altogether, a familiar voice caught my attention.
Without meaning to, I made my way down the street.
There was agitation mixed into a woman’s voice as she argued with someone. I reached into my pouch, palming a few of the sleek darts that Carth had provided. Most were tipped with coxberry, the sedative enough to buy me time, but a few were terad tipped, the toxin quickly deadly.
Down an alley, I saw Talia.
And nearly dropped my darts.
I’d never seen Talia like this before. A beautiful woman, with dark hair and dark skin she kept covered more than most in Eban, she moved in a deadly dance, knives flashing as she fought off five men surrounding her. With odds like that, I would never have given Talia much of a chance, especially after the way her throat had been split the last time I’d seen her, but she kept them at arm’s length.
Had Talia gotten caught up in the remnants of Orly’s attempt to draw Carth out? That fool plan had involved a bounty on prostitutes, knowing how Carth and her Binders were organized, and too many innocent women had been hurt by it.
The attackers weren’t accustomed to working together, and none had anything more than a sword, but even that inexperience wouldn’t matter with their numbers. Nothing I’d seen told me that they were pressing too hard, content to keep her bottled up, almost as if waiting…
Talia might be in more trouble than I realized.
Even after she had used me, or at least, allowed me to be used, I didn’t want anything to happen to her. She was—or had been—a friend. The Great Watcher knows I have few enough of them to let something as foolish as getting used get in the way.
Stepping to the side of the alley, I flipped two coxberry-tipped darts at the nearest men. They stumbled back a step and fell before the others knew the situation had changed. Two more darts sailed on either side of Talia, hitting the two men there. They fell.
That left one man.
Talia glanced at me and her eyes narrowed. I couldn’t tell if she was thankful to see me or annoyed.
She darted toward the man and knocked his knife out of his hand before he even realized what she had done. Then she slipped forward, the tip of her knife pointing underneath his chin. His eyes went wide but he had the sense not to move.
“Who were you waiting for?” she whispered.
I backed toward Talia, keeping an eye on the mouth of the alley, not wanting to end up with a sword in my back. Other than the festival revelry, I heard nothing on the street.
But I knew that wasn’t the only way people moved in the city. At least, it wasn’t the only way that
moved, and I knew I wasn’t alone in using the rooftops.
Looking up, I noted a dull reflection off a barbed crossbow bolt above me.
I flicked the dart I had in hand without checking to see which one. It hit the only visible part of the person on the rooftop that I could see: the hand. A soft grunt told me the dart hit its target.
“We need to move,” I told Talia.
She pushed her knife into the man’s throat, drawing a bead of blood. “Who is it?” she demanded.
The man shook his head. “Just hired to hold you here, nothing more—”
She jabbed the knife into his throat, and blood spilled over her hand.
I heard the sound of a crossbow firing before I saw the bolt come streaking toward her.
There were times my Sight failed me. This was not one.
To my eyes, the bolt moved clearly. Not slowly, at least, that’s not how it seemed to me, but I could track the movement and knew with certainty that it would hit Talia in the head.
I flipped a knife toward the bolt, hoping my aim was true. I didn’t practice with knives the same way I did with darts, but the technique was similar. The ability to hit whatever I intended with darts wasn’t something I had been born into, not like my Sight, but forced practice had honed that skill until it was second nature.
Talia jerked as the knife came toward her, and dropped at the same time. That had been the risk. Had she moved too far to the right, I would hit her with the knife. But she was incredibly skilled, and the knife whistled past her, colliding with the bolt before it could hit.
I searched for the archer but saw no sign of him. His angle would be much better than mine, and I didn’t like my chances exposed on the ground like we were.
“Can you climb?” I asked her.
Her quick frown told me how foolish that question was to even ask.
With a leap, I reached the overhang of the roof. I was born of Elaeavn, gifted with Sight, but like all my people, I had enhanced speed and strength. When I reached the lip of the roof, I flipped up and onto it, pulling myself up and rolling.
I’d expected the rough slate to tear at my cloak and slow me. I hadn’t expected the seven men attacking me as soon as I reached the roof.
Two darts went flying, hitting their targets.
I rolled, keeping my head down, and barreled into one of the men, knocking him from the roof. He screamed.
A sword whistled toward me and I kicked, catching the flat of the blade with my boot and sending the man spinning. With another dart, I caught the man, and he fell.
That left three remaining.
As I rolled to a stop, I saw that two of the men had crossbows aimed at me. The third had a short sword.
And all I had were my darts.
I might be fast, but would I be fast enough to catch the two men with crossbows while stopping the man with the sword at the same time?
I didn’t think I could.
The man with the sword—the leader, I realized—nodded. The ends of the crossbows came up slightly, enough indicate that they would fire. I had two darts in one hand and none in the other.
With a quick flick, I sent the darts in my palm at the men. Had I more time, I would have been able to position the darts in a way that would have caught both of them. As it was, only one struck its target. The other sailed wide, but close enough that its intended target ducked, pulling his aim as he did. The bolt flew wide.